An International & Nomadic Conference
Organized by the research groups ILLE and CRESAT (UHA, Mulhouse)
and the international doctoral programme Cultural Studies in Literary Interzones (coord. Bergamo, Italy).
1-3 December 2011
CALL FOR PAPERS
Proposals Due: 15 June 2011
“Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my life, or whether that station
Will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.”
Charles Dickens, David Copperfield
Are we entirely ourselves or entirely somebody else as we take our seat on a train or stroll into the station? Don’t these actions and environments produce in us a feeling of artificiality brought about by the overconsumption of worn-out romantic and modernist myths? These places, relatively tight and stable spaces, tend to exist because they are out of time though would be senseless without the speed and trajectories crossing through them and which carry them along. Do they have a singular power over individual’s behaviour and imagination? A short epistemological examination would doubtlessly permit philosophers and historians to position—or question the positioning of—such spaces in urban life. In more general terms, this is about considering the value of witness, of urban trace, but also of studying the immaterial heritage they help construct. Are the station, the wagon, and the train architectonic?
Leaving aside a little of the seriousness that weighs us down, be that in current high tech virtual reality, David Bowie’s songs, or the pre-mechanical age (didn’t Milton say “The planets in their station list’ning stood.”? Paradise Lost, VII, 563), the station like the train is an invitation to decelerate. It becomes a place of flux and transit, of memory and forgetting, point of flight from or point of entry into the city, place of displacement—that of individuals, merchandise, and populations—an archive, traces of our fleeting rages.
Eminently European (?) or Occidental (?) phenomena—the debate remains largely open for historians—the station and the railroad, constitutive of our cultures as economic, architectural, political and aesthetic phenomena, are also invitations to immobile but endless voyages, which perhaps do not lead to a destination, towards the end of our desires or that of the night. Therefore, we would like first and foremost in this Humanities conference to reconsider the station and the wagon as what they are, inter-zones, enclosed spaces without really being that, borderless places or places with shifting and unstable borders, where law and society suspend their particular rules, where a game of entirely artificial indifferences gets established, sometimes obscenely because of the exacerbated intimacy created in such close quarters. The station can in fact be a space of disorder, of heterogeneity, but also of cross-fertilization and communication. The station is first of all, within the city, an enclave; and the wagon, in our lives, a fantasy of annihilation of the Other.
On the occasion of the TGV line Mulhouse-Gare Centrale arriving this winter, we invite our future conference speakers to study the station and the wagon (in literature, history, the visual arts and why not even by taking to the tracks of philosophy) as cultural and artistic vectors of the programmed obsolescence of technological innovation. For historians, this may be an occasion to consider stations and railways’ predominant role in the evolution of urban development.
Finally, to join act and speech, this conference will be nomadic, thus privilege the selection of propositions which may be interpreted as “university performances”. Apart from a few talks which will take place within the elegant walls of the Société Industrielle de Mulhouse (a few feet from the Mulhouse Gare) most of the workshops will take place on a moving train. We will be forced to take to the stations, platforms and stops, without any particular itinerary, just an uncertain destination in search of ourselves on a perpetual round-trip voyage. Mulhouse Terminus, but no one gets off!
For more information on sending proposals or booking a place: